Tinder is an app that allows you to connect with the opposite gender and attempt to initiate the courtship process. But it has one condition that greatly influences courtship – that condition is that both parties must swipe right on each other to be able to talk. This unique aspect creates a barrier between person A and person B who will both be unable to communicate unless they have mutual interest in one another. Technology has historically had a drastic impact on courtship and without a doubt influenced to some degree, change in each generation. Before jumping into modern courtship lets examine the courtship process through a filter of a few decades. Lets look at the history of courtship and how its evolved in the 19th century.

    Dating is definitely an “American phenomenon.” Few other countries carry on this practice with as much fervor as Americans do. Then again, few other countries have the same social conditions as America. Since the turn of the century, there has been a greater freedom between men and women, for example, both attend the same schools with the same classes. Both sexes become accustomed to the other at early ages which is very conducive to the practice of dating (Bailey 47). Dating has always been a practice that is defined by the time period, social constructs, biology, cultural norms and institutional structures found in society. This blog examines dating through the filter of the United States of America – for which I am very interested in as an potential model that extrapolates the digital evolution of courtship.

    It was not until the 1920’s that dating really started to become a trend. Before this period all dating was subject to chaperones and heavy supervision. An example of this was a dance held at a local church or community center to bring youths together. While this provided an opportunity for young people to meet there was always a set of watchful eyes ready to impose societal norms at the first indiscretion. This form of behavior control made it difficult for young people to explore their innate sexual programming. In the following decades dancing became more personal instead of it being something you did as a group. It became something more intimate to which you invited someone to come with you and whom you stayed with for the majority of the event. It was around this time that technology began to change the courtship process. One of the first major technologies to disrupt courtship was the family car. Courtship through use of an automobile enabled couples to have more privacy and intimacy.

    During the 1930’s the concept of “going steady” started to emerge. A new stage in relationship model developed that sat right between the casualness of dating and marriage. Partly thanks to the influence of popular culture through films a ritual marking this stage began to develop. Sharing a class ring, sweater, jacket or some token that showed possession was often used to symbolize going steady. The early decades of the 19th century marked strong marriage trends in which upwards of 80% of young people were married before the age of 28. There was a drop in the age of couples marring for the first time and an increase of marriages in the 1940’s and 1950’s. The average age for a male marring was 22 and 20 for a female in the year 1950. The role of sex in dating was unambiguous if a women wished to remain “marriage material” she could participate in all of courtship process except for pre-marital intercourse. A women who broke this societal taboo was marked by society as being no longer pure and was considered bad marriage material. There is strong data suggesting that one of the reasons people got married younger was to engage in sexual relations in a manner that society felt was appropriate.

    The 1960’s marked dramatic change through many areas of society. Of the many important revolutions that happened in this decade one is the sexual revolution of the 1960’s. The feminist movement had a huge impact on society and cultural norms during this period. As a result of this revolution women were empowered and encouraged to think of alternative life goals other than becoming a wife. Women began to view themselves as human being who had wants and needs equal to men. The amount of women enrolled in colleges greatly increased during this period and youth culture began to view pre-material sex as being acceptable. One of the reasons for the acceptance of pre-material sex was the introduction of birth control. The pill went on the market during this decade and spread quickly, within three years some two million women were using it. It was also readily available through college campuses thanks to feminist organizations who saw it as a tool to free women from the oppressiveness of motherhood. Half a decade after this the average age of first intercourse was 16 for males and 17 for females. Thanks to birth control and cars (and many other factors) by the time the 1980’s rolled in 80% of males and 65% of females had engaged in pre-martial sex already. Not surprisingly the ages of first time marriage increased and the amount of marriages decreased.

    What Changed Dating Rituals?

    A sexologist Leonore Tiefer states in her book, SEX is Not a Natural Act and Other Essays, how large social changes affected how people view marriage and relationships:

    The Purpose of marriage has shifted from economic necessity to companionship, resulting in dramatic changes in obligations and expectations. There has been a shift in how we measure a person’s “success’s” to include physical vitality and life enjoyment along with material achievements. Divorce and “serial monogamy” have become increasingly acceptable making people anxious about maintaining relationships. Changes in social attitudes and improvements in contraception have allowed women to view sexuality as separate from reproduction and as an avenue from self-expression and pleasure. People are relying on personal relationships to provide a sense of worth they lack in the public sphere due to increased technology, mobility, and bureaucracy” (Tiefer, pg. 11).

    Birth control and the automobile greatly changed the dating rituals of young people in these decades. The car had a large effect due to it removing the ever watchful eye of the chaperone. Couples were no longer subject to supervision of their parents or community members as a result they became more comfortable with their sexuality. Due to the economic boom of the 1920’s many families had a family car and it was usually available for use by young people during peak evening hours – the hours which parents would usually be at home. This provided more opportunities to engage in social situations, to see potential mates in more intimate interactions and increased social mobility. In addition to the car, television and cinema received a boom during this time. These new forms of media provided models of gender interaction for adolescents to mirror.

    Birth control enabled women to separate sex and reproduction completely. A woman no longer had to worry that the person she was having sexual relations with was potentially going to impregnate her. As a result it was very common for a college aged girl to go on a “summer of love” in between semesters, in which they would have many sexual partners and experiences in a short period of time. It wasn’t until the AIDs scare of the following decades that this sexual freedom would be put under some sort of societal regulation.

    The Mobile Phone Revolution

    Skipping ahead a few decades we arrive at the modern day revolution in dating. In modern America, dating has emerged as an activity that is no longer regulated by adults and has fewer restrictions via society than ever before. In addition, the progression that marked the stages for courtship has changed. The main role of technology has always been to assist us to achieve a goal and to accomplish this goal more efficiently. It’s now possible to seek out more sexual partners than past generations would ever have had the ability to. Geographic restrictions that limited the size of social circles before are no longer an obstacle. The entire courtship process has been simplified into a effortless swipe gesture.

    The social sphere of contacts that someone would have in the 1920-80s was limited to how many people they could keep in contact with, which was also a function of the technology of the era. You can only keep in touch with so many people with wall mounted telephones, pony mail and actual face to face social interactions. In contrast to today’s modern world where the opposite is happening – that is having too many people to keep in contact with and lacking strong interpersonal relationships/experiences. We have more choices when it comes to selection of sexual partners now than the previous generations and easier access to these partners. But has this hasn’t improved our bond with the opposite sex or improved our chances of finding a suitable partner to settle down with.

    The Tinder Experiment Motivation

    Since technology just makes things easier it should be apparent that gender specific sexual strategy should be more pronounced through modern dating apps than they were through traditional models. So what happens when the tools that enable both genders to apply their ideal GSSS are ubiquitous? What disruptions in established courtship processes does this have? And, what is it like from both genders point of view? These are just a few questions this series hopes to cover. This experiment is really just a set of observations. These observations are of both genders participating in the courtship process through technology while being monitored via biometric instruments. For a detailed explanation of these biometric instruments and what insight they provide please read the blog post titled “Is it possible to see into the mind of the opposite gender?” Continuing on in the series the next blog continues to tackle courtship in a digital world, read the blog post titled “The Tinder Experiment Part 1” for more.

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